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Airmen, families spend holiday apart

Master Sgt. Christopher Culbreth most misses watching his children sleep and hearing the screams of "Merry Christmas" that greet him in the morning.

Culbreth is one of more than 400 airmen from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita who were serving overseas this Christmas. At the request of The Eagle, some of them wrote about what their life was like being deployed over the holidays.

"I miss drinking that first cup of coffee, watching the kids squirm as they can't open presents until everyone is there," said Culbreth, flight superintendent with the 65th Civil Engineering Squadron at Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal.

"I miss that kiss with my wife and the ability to hold her tight only to tell her face to face that 'I love you, Merry Christmas,' " he added.

Christmas isn't forgotten on foreign Air Force bases.

There was a 10-kilometer run, a Christmas parade, party and dinner in the Middle East, where Senior Airman Sierra Stith, serves with the 22nd Operations Support Squadron.

"As troops of the United States military, you realize that when duty calls you have to answer," said Stith, who works with combat communications.

"I fight so Americans can sleep peacefully and enjoy the holidays," Stith added.

Troops also enjoy opening packages that come from thousands of miles away.

"It makes a difference — especially during the holidays," said Daniel Hubert, deployed to Iraq as an aircraft maintenance adviser to the Iraqi military.

Hubert became an adviser for the maintenance group from McConnell after serving as an aircraft mechanic on the KC-135 for 14 years. Despite being gone for the holidays, he said he's glad he took his new assignment.

"The few months I have been doing this job so far are the most rewarding deployment I have had to date," Hubert said. "The Iraqi Maintainers (aircraft mechanics and technicians) I work with daily have became counterparts in aviation and I have developed friendships that will last long past my deployment."

Some airmen said they just couldn't find words to describe the loneliness of serving at Christmas.

"The young firefighter who got to hold his firstborn only five days before deploying for four months, said it just hurt too much to write about — like pouring salt on an open wound," said McConnell spokeswoman Sharon Hamric.

One McConnell mother, who asked not to be named, wrote about her 2-year-old twin sons who are too young to read the calendar and know when their father will return home. He has been deployed since before Thanksgiving, but they keep in touch through Skype Internet telephone service.

"At their young age, their eyes light up and ears perk when they hear the sound of a Skype phone call coming over their mommy's laptop," she wrote. "They eagerly wait for Daddy's voice and picture to come through."

Airman 1st Class Adam Joachim, 22, said it's difficult for his family to get home for Christmas. Originally from Florida, the boom operator with 344th Air Refueling Squadron has parents and four siblings scattered throughout the country.

Joachim is single and had just returned a month ago from a two-month deployment, when he volunteered to return to the Middle East for the holidays.

"I thought it would be a good way to help my fellow Airmen if I could assume a deployment and allow someone else to be home with his family," Joachim said.

Culbreth has been away since November 2009. He said the thought that he'll soon return to Wichita keeps him going through the holidays.

"I am but one person of a thousand military personnel performing the same role," he wrote. "But I am lucky to not be in harm's way and only a few months from coming home."

Airmen tell what it’s like to be deployed over Christmas

The Eagle requested commentaries from airmen deployed overseas during Christmas from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita. Below are their responses:

Adam Joachim

„ Age: 22

„ Airman 1st Class

„ Boom operator with the 344th Air Refueling Squadron of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing

I returned from a 63-day deployment approximately one month ago and volunteered for another Middle East deployment over the holiday season. I do not mind deploying because of my joy of being a part of something very important.

When I am deployed, I know I am directly supporting the war against terrorism and making a difference for the members of my family and my country. Also, I remember all the stories my grandfather, brother, and sister told me about serving in the military and their combat experiences; I want to have those stories to impart to my friends and family members too.

There are many other Airmen and Non-Commissioned Officers with families that are deploying over this holiday season. I thought it would be a good way to help my fellow Airmen if I could assume a deployment and allow someone else to be home with his family.

I joined the Air Force to fly and the deployed environment provides the greatest flying opportunity I have experienced in my Air Force career. Everyone serving on the mission in the Middle East has the same goal in common: to stop the threat of terrorism from spreading and to protect our country.

To miss the holidays this year with my family is a small price to pay and does not bother me. Terrorists do not take holiday leave or vacation; they are spreading terror all year, so I will not stop until they do.”

Christopher Culbreth

„ Age: 39

„ Master sergeant

„ Flight superintendent with the 65th Civil Engineering Squadron

I am currently serving a 15-month remote in Lajes Field, Azores Portugal. I arrived on Lajes on Nov. 18, 2009, and began my tour during the holidays. Although the military family is very prominent and welcoming overseas, there is nothing like a Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends. My family and I understand that we all have to do our part, as if I am not here someone else would be. That year I met some new people and ate, sat and talked, but it was surely not the same as you can imagine. Additionally, the web cam Christmas morning of opening presents was more than I could have asked for, but still not the same as being there and watching the magic happen to include our family’s traditional breakfast casserole. Sure missed that one!

So here I sit at work typing away more than one year later in the same place after already spending another Thanksgiving away and getting close to my second consecutive Christmas and New Years Eve alone. Just wondering how lucky everyone else is. I miss admiring my children as they sleep. I miss drinking that first cup of coffee watching the kids squirm as they can’t open presents until everyone is there. I miss that Merry Christmas early wake up from the excitement building from the kids that can’t contain their emotions. I miss that kiss with my wife and the ability to hold her tight only to tell her face to face that “I love you, Merry Christmas”. It is hard to imagine all the little things you miss until they are not there.

I would only like to share that I am but one person of a thousand military personnel performing the same role, but I am lucky to not be in harm’s way and only a few months from coming home. I am however, “Gone for the Holidays” missing the little things.

Sierra Stith

„ Sr. Airman

„ Combat Crew Communications, 22nd Operations Support Squadron, 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base

Being deployed during the holidays can be very stressful. Life in a deployed location is almost like it is living in the States — to a bare minimum. But you make the most of what you get. While at various deployment locations you meet a lot of other troops and you start to make bonds that will last a lifetime.

While most Americans at home are opening presents on Christmas Day, for those of us deployed the base provides numerous events like a 10K run, Christmas parade, holiday party and a Christmas Dinner. The holidays are an important part of American society. My squadron tries to bring everyone together as a family during the holidays and that means a lot to us since we are one big group of deployed "Airmen" that provide fuel to other aircraft in support of freedom.

As troops of the United States military, you realize that when duty calls you have to answer. We all made a sworn oath to protect Americans from foreign and domestic enemies, to protect the U. S. Constitution and the American way of life. I fight so Americans can sleep peacefully and enjoy the holidays.

I love being a part of the United States Air Force and an Airman from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing, 22d Operations Group, and 22nd Operations Support Squadron.

Daniel Hubert

„ Tech. sergeant

„ Aircraft maintenance adviser to Iraqi military, attached to 22nd Maintenance Group, 22nd Air Refueling Wing

I have been an aircraft mechanic on the KC-135 for 14 years. I love that plane.

I have deployed many times with that aircraft over the years ensuring fuel was passed high above combat zones in different operations. In the spring of 2010, I had a chance to volunteer for a job in Iraq as an aircraft maintenance advisor working small single engine aircraft.

This was a hard decision to make, I had never been away from my family for that long. I spent time talking to my family and friends; some thought I was crazy for wanting to volunteer and others understood. BUT everyone said they would support my decision.

Over the summer I did a lot of training in preparation for this deployment. I was exposed to a different side of the military. It was amazing being able to work with officers and enlisted airman from many different bases and careers across the Air Force. The common goal was to become trained advisors that would take Operation New Dawn by storm.

When I arrived to Iraq after four very long days of traveling, I stepped right into my job as an advisor. The few months I have been doing this job so far are the most rewarding deployment I have had to date. The Iraqi Maintainers (aircraft mechanics and technicians) I work with daily have became counterparts in aviation and I have developed friendships that will last long past my deployment. I am thankful to be selected for this duty.

To everyone back home that supports the troops overseas, THANK YOU! I have received many care packages and it makes a difference — especially during the holidays. I personally wouldn’t be able to do my job here like I could without the support of my family and close friends. I am grateful for you!

K. B.

„ Active duty Air Force mother whose husband, a pilot, is deployed to the Middle East. Both are stationed at McConnell Air Force Base.

Our twin 2-year-old boys are celebrating the holidays this year much different from most of their friends. To start, their Thanksgiving was about a week long instead of just one day since Daddy "flew off in his airplane" Nov. 21, and then family came into town for "real" Thanksgiving to make the Turkey Day extra special. They also experienced having their Christmas lights and tree up before most of their neighborhood buddies since the family helped Daddy with that before he deployed.

The twins get read a Christmastime story by Daddy’s recorded voice that both surprises and mystifies them as each page turns. At their young age, their eyes light up and ears perk when they hear the sound of a Skype phone call coming over their mommy's laptop. They eagerly wait for Daddy's voice and picture to come through.

His deployment's extended a bit this time, but the boys will be fine with being the last ones on the block with holiday decorations and their Christmas lasting two weeks longer than most of their friends. After all, they aren't watching the calendar like Mommy; they're just reveling in how festive everyone is trying to make Daddy's deployment go by "quicker."

Deployed Airmen Commentaries

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